Poof! Safari Erased My Hard-Drive!

The evening of January 7th, after hours of work retouching digital photos, I was ready to do something fun. I dutifully saved my laboriously-retouched Photoshop files into desktop folders. That completed the day and evening's mission, preparing the files to be printed for client delivery the next morning.

In Jaguar's multi-tasked OS jungle background lurked a download of Safari, Apple's futuristic and snappy new web browser. I perused Apple's web-site earlier in the day to see what Steve Job's unveiled at a key-note. At the site, along with sightings of the new Alice-in-Wonderland larger and smaller PowerBooks, and new Windows smashing software KeyNote, I found the new "i" family, plus Safari.

First I investigated the newly announced iDVD and iMovie (my family recently purchased a digital video camera and a Formac dvd burner). iMovie 3 will be available for a free download, cool. Not cool, iDVD won't work with the my external burner, so there's no reason to purchase the iLife package: I impulsively launched Steve Job's pre-loaded email from LaunchBar (my all time favorite OS X utility); My PowerBook is fairly new, but not new enough for a "SuperDrive."

I proceeded to download the new free apps, Safari and iTunes while finishing my days work on my G3 b/w desktop computer. I noticed Safari had a beta rating, but I figured since it's on Apple's home-page and it's beta, not alpha, should be okay, at least no serious bugs. As an experimenter, I've tried several web browsers, and never been completely satisfied with any of them. My Internet Explorer quits unexpectedly every few minutes. Netscape feels sluggish and cumbersome. So, I'm excited to try Safari hoping it will be the glimmering browser of my dreams.

Anxiously, I dragged Safari from it's disk-image window; I was impressed by the Applesque compass icon. A double-click revealed a clean, beautiful and refreshingly simple UI, and a fast loading live home-page. "This is too cool," I thought, and was anxious to try some of the features. Of course, I opened my own personal home-pages first to see what my under-developed photo sites looked like www.richardpetersonphoto.com and www.pinkandpearl.com.

For photography clients, I make web-galleries from folders of photos to present proofs; these are saved to cd-rs or private galleries on one of my sites. When someone makes a print order, my habit is to open their gallery with IE, and option click the thumbnails of ordered images to quickly collect references for the files I'm going to be working on.

If you're not familiar with the technique, here's an example. These are rare photos I took of Hollywood actress Shawnee Smith. A simple click on the thumbnail opens the page in a web window; however, option-clicking the thumbnail downloads the large image to your hard-drive.

So, I go on Safari to a thumbnail page and option-click a series of images to see if it works. Well, it seemed to work at first. But something strange was going on in the narrow download window that appeared. The file names seemed to be changing to or appending the User name of my Home directory. This gave me a uneasy feeling, and I didn't know where the files were headed since I had never opened the prefs. "Must be some Apple engineering magic," I thought.

Looking aside the Safari window, I noticed the just-created folders housing my work projects on the desktop were no longer visible, nor were the hard-disk and c.d. icons. Navigating to Finder> Preferences, I checked to see if the "Show these items on the Desktop" items were checked. Sure enough, they were.

Safari's window closed, DiskWarrior, Alsoft's essential repair utility disk, went into the c.d. door, and I restarted. The drive with my startup system showed no errors. I also checked an attached FireWire drive that showed minor errors and a scsi drive with more serious errors, repaired by DiskWarrior.

After a reboot, my desktop still had no files. Now I was beginning to really worry. Where were all the work-projects I just finished and saved? First thought was to check the Desktop folder inside the Users folder, so I opened the Users folder; what I saw took my breath awayó and practically stopped my heart. There was the Shared folder, and half-dozen flat/blank white files with names like "User," "User 1," "User 2," etc. My actual User folder had vanished, seemingly replaced by this flat-white file.

Breathing was difficult for several minutes while I thought about the gigabytes of files stored in my User directory; thousands of original photo files for private clients, music labels, major video and still sessions of out-of-town clients like well-known dancers, even family photos and videos. Since I work with digital cameras, there would be no film to re-scan if the files disappeared. A portion of the files were mirrored on my new PowerBook, but it was at the Apple service center for a broken c.d. slot, and I agreed to the waiver allowing them to erase the drive.

Then it dawned on me: a few hours earlier, while working on my photos, I took a moment to drag my User folder to by FireWire drive, and it copied in the background while I was working. But it was very late at this point, and I couldn't remember for sure. Hastily, I opened the FireWire drive icon and witnessed the folders, measured them with Get Info and realized that a miracle had saved me. All of the most priceless files remained! Well, except the new projects just saved to the desktop, which had no backup. An extensive manual and Find search revealed nothing of my User directory.

Some things vanished: recent mail and addresses, Library folder files with app serial number references and components: these things can be recovered with a bit of work. But what if I hadn't fatefully backed up my personal creative and business files from several months of work?

It dawned on me that since this happened so easily, it would probably erase other people's hard-drives along with their important files. I navigated to Apple's web-site and found the Safari page. No direct links were available to file a bug report; the bug-button on the browser was required! But Safari and its installer disappeared since they were both on my desktop. Internet Explorer, sans bookmarks, etc., successfully re-downloaded Safari to one of my drives. I launched it, hit the bug button and sent a message to Apple about my frightening experience.

I then navigated to Apple's support forum for Safari and looked for someone else having the same problem, which I expected to find, but didn't. So, I posted "Danger! Danger! Danger!" to get attention and hopefully save someone from losing their files.

Within the forum, a number of others reported similar or same problems; the next day Apple released an update to Safari and they added a thread to the forum stating that the issue had been addressed by the update. They also notified me by an FYI email that my forum was harming the performance of all the forums and might have to be removed. And, temporarily, they moved my forum to the bottom of the list to make it difficult to find. Turns out places like Mac Write, MacFixIt, SlashDot, and others picked up my threads and were sending many to view the forum, so many it was damaging Apple's services! Hopefully, some of those people read the warning and averted disaster.